“Phone rings, door chimes, in comes company!”
As any musical theater buff can tell you, the person whose phone is ringing and whose door is chiming and who is welcoming company into his Manhattan pad is none other than Robert, aka Bobby, aka Bob, aka Bobbo, aka Robby, aka Bobby Baby, aka Robert Darling, aka Bobby Honey, the bachelor lead of Company, Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s Tony-winning Best Musical of 1970, and the latest sensational offering by San Diego’s illustrious Cygnet Theatre.
Groundbreaking back in the early 1970s in its depiction of adult relationships, Company remains a heady treat today, forty-three years after its Broadway debut. Unlike a recent L.A. production which set Company smack-dab in the middle of 2013, director Sean Murray opts to keep Company in its original time frame, a decision perhaps more in tune with Furth’s book and Sondheim’s lyrics, each of them a nostalgic refection on the mores of their era.
Andrew Wells Ryder stars as Bobby, just turning thirty-five and the only remaining bachelor in a circle of friends that includes married couples Joanne and Larry, Peter and Susan, Harry and Sarah, David and Jenny, and Paul and Amy, none of whom can figure out why Bobby remains so resolutely single. Then again Bobby himself might not be able to answer that one, especially now that he finds himself halfway on the road to seventy with nothing to show for it relationship-wise.
In what was a fairly revolutionary approach for its day, Company introduces us to Bobby’s buddies, couple by couple, in a series of disconnected sequences taking the place of a more linear plotline.
First up is the self-proclaimedly on-the-wagon Harry (Andrew Oswald) and his ever-dieting wife Sarah (Melissa Fernandes), whose martial arts demonstration reveals considerably marital strain (and elicits considerable audience laughter in the bargain).
Next we meet Peter and Susan (Kürt Norby and Wendy Waddell), a Southern belle and her New Yorker hubby who, Bobby learns with considerable surprise, are about to be happily divorced.
Company next introduces us to alpha male David (Andy Collins) and straight-laced Jenny (Athena Espinoza), who do their best to get Bobby stoned in an attempt to loosen him up enough to find out why he’s so darned resistant to walking down the aisle.
Speaking of which, Amy (Eileen Bowman) may or may not be getting married today to her Jewish fiancé Paul (Matthew Naegeli), her doubts and fears revealed in the appropriately titled “Getting Married Today,” quite possibly the fastest sung song in the history of American musical theater.
Completing Bobby’s circle of married friends are 50something Joanne (Linda Libby) and hubby number three Larry (David Kirk Grant), who take Bobby out for a night on the town only to have a steadily drunker Joanne launch into Sondheim’s iconic toast to “The Ladies Who Lunch.”
Then there are Bobby’s latest three girlfriends: spacey flight attendant April (Katie Whalley); Kathy (Mary Joe Duggan), on her way out of the big city and into married life in the country; and quintessential New Yorker Marta (Ashlee Mayer), who celebrates “a city of strangers, some come to stare, some to stay” in the Sondheim classic “Another Hundred People.”
All of these characters exert their influence over Bobby, the result of which he expresses in the wistful “Someone Is Waiting,” the conflicted “Marry Me A Little,” and the acidic but ultimately celebratory “Being Alive,” songs featuring some of Sondheim’s most evocative lyrics: “Someone is waiting, warm as Susan, frantic and touching as Amy.” “Marry me a little. Love me just enough. Cry, but not too often. Play, but not too rough.” “Someone to crowd you with love. Someone to force you to care. Someone to make you come through, who’ll always be there as frightened as you of being alive.”
Following in the footsteps of previously reviewed Cygnet Theatre musical hits Sweeney Todd and Parade, Company once again reveals Cygnet at the forefront of making world-class professional theater for San Diegans by San Diegans. In fact, anyone who might doubt our neighbor down south’s vibrant community of professional actors need only check out Company for proof positive.
Under the inspired direction of Cygnet Theatre Artistic Director Murray and featuring David Brannen’s razzle-dazzle choreography and Patrick Marion’s topnotch musical direction, Company is well worth a road trip down San Diego way.
Bobby may be the show’s leading man (and more about Cygnet’s Bobby later) but the plummest roles go to the colorful cast of supporting players.
Husbands Collins, Grant, and Oswald get their stellar spotlight moment in one of Sondheim’s most poignant songs, “Sorry/Grateful.” Mayer lucks out too with a splendidly sung “Another Hundred People,” then joins voices with Duggan and Whalley in “You Could Drive A Person Crazy” for the most infectious three-part harmony in town. Duggan is the evening’s undisputed dance star in her solo turn in “Tick-Tock,” a number often cut when a performer of the New York-based triple-threat’s talents can’t be found. Whalley gets her very own showcase as well, duetting a lovely “Barcelona” with Ryder’s Bobby. Espinoza, Fernandes, Naegeli, Norby, and Waddell have a tad less to do than the above, but each is thoroughly marvelous.
A pair of supporting performances stand out above all the rest. Bowman’s hilariously manic “Getting Married Today” has award-caliber written all over it, and as for “The Ladies Who Lunch,” you may think you’ve heard Joanne’s iconic number before, but the sensational Libby makes it all her own, from its deceptively quiet start to its never-more-devastating orchestra-free finish.
Finally, there could be no Company without its Bobby, and Ryder fills the mid-thirties bachelor’s shoes quite nicely, if not as spectacularly as some have before. Handsome, sexy, a fine actor, and a capable singer, the charismatic Ryder’s highly promising work here is made even more remarkable by the fact that the up-and-comer graduated from University of North Carolina School of the Arts just two years ago.
After a relatively un-dancy first act, choreographer Brannen and his multi-talented cast get to strut their stuff—and then some—in the razzmatazzy one-two punch of the Act Two-opening “Side by Side by Side” and “What Would We Do Without You?”
The evening’s biggest and best design stars by far are Jeanne Reith for her gorgeously colorful period costumes and Peter Herman for his equally nostalgic wig and makeup design. The late-‘60s/early-‘70s have never looked so groovy.
Director Murray makes imaginative use of scenic designer Ryan Grossheim’s snazzy multilevel New York apartment set, masterfully lit by Chris Rynne. Sound designers Ross Goldman and Matt Lescault-Wood insure a just-right blend of amplified vocals and the splendid offstage six-piece orchestra under the baton of conductor-keyboardist Marion. (The organ-heavy orchestrations have a nice, retro touch.) Credit goes also to Angelica Ynfante for her properties design and to George Yé, San Diego’s master fight choreographer.
Chandra R.M. Anthenill is stage manager and Marie Jahelka assistant stage manager. Taylor Wycoff is dramaturg. Mark Patricio is assistant director and cast member Whalley assistant choreographer.
With Sean Murray assuredly and imaginatively in the driver’s seat, Cygnet’s revival of Company is a winner all the way from its catchy title song, which starts things off with a bang, to its striking (and brilliantly tweaked) final tableau.
Cygnet Theatre, 4040 Twiggs St., San Diego.
July 28, 2013
Photos: Daren Scott